Month: June 2010
Death. Such a taboo word. No one wants to think about it, talk about it, or experience it. When we think of the word “death”, our first thought is death in the typical sense – to quit breathing. Then you have the most important – death to self and proclaiming Jesus as your Lord and Savior and being baptized. But have you ever known someone that “died” in some other way, but yet they were still live, breathing, human beings?
When a person goes through traumatic experiences in their life, they are sure to change in many ways. It can be for the better, it can be for the worse, or it can just be that they come out different. When you wake up one day looking at the same person you have looked at everyday and realize that they are no longer the same person you once knew, you realize that a death has happened. I say “death” because the person they once were is gone. There may be remnants left, but the core person they were could be totally gone – to never surface again. The feelings you experience when you realize this is comparable to that of losing someone to death in the traditional sense. Some people feel they experience this when a spouse announces they want a divorce, a child begins to rebel in hurtful ways, or a friend stabs you in the back.
We have experienced it watching our son for the last two years battle leukemia. Our not scared of much, independent, let’s go hunting, give-me-some-space energetic 16 yr old boy has changed. He is not that boy anymore. Two years of nauseating chemos, spinal taps, bone marrow biopsies, MRIs, xrays, central lines, trips to the ICU, death of close friends, and excruciatingly long hospital stays away from home have broken him in many ways. His loving spirit is still there, and he definitely has changed in that he has a stronger faith and appreciation for life and family. But that spirit of a young boy enjoying life and just growing up…. is gone. It died somewhere along the way. After staring at the same big brown eyes for two years, I realized that a different person was staring back. I have cried many tears missing my boy even though he sits next to me. I cry for the days of freedom that he lost, the innocence that was taken away in an instant, the safe world that me and his Dad tried to create that crashed with one phone call. I have cried for it all.
Then I realized, I was really crying for ME. Crying for all of those things that symbolized a somewhat normal life. Jonathan sits next to me – yes, a different person, but a wonderful human being. What do I really have to cry about???
I do miss my 16 yr old boy that didn’t have to worry about cancer. I do miss my boy that looked at me with feisty eyes, talked back, kept a dirty room, and preferred to shout at his siblings to stay out of his room…. that same boy is now a young man who doesn’t like to be alone, worries about relapse, and has a sadness in his eyes for all that he has seen and the friends he has lost in the last two years. But he is also a young man who has a stronger faith, a great appreciation for the simple things, more love for his family and friends than he has ever known, and a spirit that has been broken and reenergized many times, but just keeps on going.
Death came to Jonathan in that he is no longer the young boy who was diagnosed two years ago. I love and miss that boy very much, but I am so proud of the young man who sits beside me. Yes… I have been crying for me and missing all that our life before cancer was like. But it is time to let go and move forward to what is right here with me today. God has taken care of my son for two long years and he is still sitting here with me. What in the world MORE could I ask for ?!?!?
Everyone of us has changed and I, nor Kevin, nor any of our children will ever, ever be the same. But God has enriched our lives and taught us more about love, faith, the fragility of life, and to trust in Him when all seems lost. Indeed, we are all the better for having been through these trials. I pray that none of you will have to experience anything like this in order to “die” to bad habits, spiteful ways, burdened hearts, or to your own self. But if you do, remember to look at what is right before you and what you have in your life to be thankful for. Don’t take each day you wake up for granted and make a difference in your world. As for me… there will be no more crying for ME.
Days all begin to run together and emotions run high when you’re a patient or a caregiver in the hospital. Today my husband, Kevin, spent the day with me and our son, Jonathan on our tenth day at the hospital. When it came time for Kevin to leave, I hugged him tight as usual and told him I would talk with him later. I watched him with his bags as he headed out the door and down the hospital hallways. From our window on the ninth floor, I can see the walkway and entrance to the parking garage way down below. I watched as my husband crossed the street and began the trek under the covered walkway to the parking garage. My heart hurt watching him because I know how tired he is, how useless he feels leaving us behind, and just how much he hates getting in that car to leave us. And then of course, panic set in at the thought of him driving 30 miles to the apartment in heavy Houston traffic. I think of how much he means to me, and after all we’ve been through, how our relationship has only gotten stronger. I quickly sent him a text message and told him that I could see him from my window and that I loved him. I saw him as he stopped, grabbed his phone out of his pocket, and read the message. He turned around and knowing that he could not see me nine floors up , he waved into nowhere knowing that I would see him. Then he sent me the message “I love you MOST”. Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched him slowly turn and head out of my sight…
Have you ever watched someone you love walk or drive away and you were suddenly gripped with an unexplainable fear that you might not see them again? I have always been one of those people to think outside of the box and be guilty of fatalistic thinking at times. I’m a worry-wart for sure. It has been especially difficult in the last two years since Jonathan has been sick and in the hospital so much.
Each time the kids come up to the hospital to visit, it tears my heart out to watch them leave. I am flooded with so much love for them and wishing that I could have them all together to show them everyday. My heart walks away with them, and I miss them every second that I have to be away from them. I know that seems overly dramatic in the everyday scheme of things. We all have daily comings and goings that are just part of life, right? Dealing with life and death everyday for us has brought out fears and emotions that we didn’t have before. Watching my kids and my husband get into an elevator waving “Bye, Mommy” and “Love you, Honey” is sometimes overshadowed by thoughts of never hearing it again. This is when it is time to look to God for the peace and strength only He can give. I have to let my fears fade away, trust in Him, and hold on tight to my faith. Yes, just like everyone else, it is really hard sometimes when all I want to do is grab Jonathan and jump in the elevator with our family and leave hospitals forever and never look back. But life just doesn’t work that way. We were put into this situation for a reason, and we will continue to hold tight to His love and mercy knowing that our lives can only be better for it. God bless each of you as you hug your loved ones goodbye. Have a healthy fear that will remind you to make the most of your every moment with your loved ones, but don’t let it rule your emotions. God is in every moment with you, and in His world, there are no goodbyes.
Isn’t it crazy how certain smells, tastes, sights, sounds can trigger memories of specific events or moments in your life? I remember being pregnant with my little boy, Jacob, and the intense smell of a bush at my mother’s house that nearly made me lose my lunch everytime I smelled it! To this day, if I smell that bush, it makes me feel queasy! At other times, I can see something and suddenly have a flashback of another time or another place that seems so vivid it’s like I’m back in time. You can especially have these moments when it is something traumatic that has happened. I bet a lot of you can remember where you were on September 11th when you heard the World Trade Centers had been attacked. It is moments like those that become etched in your mind and memory. I was reminded of those attacks just today as I watched an airplane from our 9th floor window look dangerously close to our building, even though I’m sure it was farther away than it looked, but it sent a shudder up my spine nonetheless.
It has been almost two years ago now since Jonathan was diagnosed with cancer, but I can take myself back to the moment I received that fateful phone call from the doctor as vividly as if I were still sitting there in my car, answering that telephone…
It was the first day of school for the kids. My oldest daughter was excited to be starting her Senior Year and we were overwhelmed with all that entailed. Our 16 yr old, Jonathan, was being homeschooled that year and I had a ton of work lined up for him, but he wasn’t feeling well and would be going to his third doctor visit for tonsilitis. Our 13 yr old was excited about starting 8th grade, and our 9 yr old was heading into 3rd grade. Each child was at a different school campus, and it was a typical first day at school with busy traffic and harried moms dropping off kids who were carrying backpacks of supplies that probably weighed as much as the kids did. After dropping them off, I headed back home to start my day with a 3 yr old and make a doctor appointment for Jonathan with the ENT that day.
The day went by fast, and my husband texted me from Jonathan’s appointment saying that the doctor was unsure what was going on with Jonathan’s tonsils, so he decided to draw some blood for lab work, start him on stronger antibiotics, and see him back in the office in a few days. They arrived back home just in time for me to scramble into the car and head to each school to pick up the kids and hear about their first day. I had just picked up the last child and needed to go by the tire shop before heading home. We were stopped at a red light on Hwy 96 in front of the Discount Tire Shop. I answered the phone as I was listening to the girls chatter away about school and what all their friends had done over the summer.
“This is Dr. O’Mara … “
“Mrs. O’Malley, I just got a phone call from our Pathologist. I am so sorry to have to tell you this over the phone and wish there was some other way…. but you need to get Jonathan to the hospital. The Pathologist is sure that your son has Leukemia…..”
My stomach dropped. My hands went cold. My body felt numb. I was sure I had to have heard wrong, but the doctor was giving me instructions on where to take him and that he had already called the hospital and they would be expecting us. My girls stared at me as I hung up the phone. I must have cried, “Oh God, no..” because the girls were saying “What Mom? What is it?” That was the longest red light I ever sat at in my entire life. I told the girls as I began to shake and cry. They, too, began to cry.
I needed to get home which was less than two miles away. I wanted to rush there, but then again I wanted it to take forever because it would keep me from having to look at my husband and tell him our son had cancer. How in the world was I going to do this??? I picked up the phone and called my Mother in law whom I had just been on the phone with. I cried into the phone what the doctor had said. She helped calm me a little as I drove towards home. I then called my Mother and shared the news with her. “How am I going to do this, Mom?” My husband had already lost a first wife to a terrible disease when our two oldest were very small. How could I march in and tell him this devastating news? I was about to break his heart and his world into a million pieces, and I just wanted to hit the rewind button and for things to be back where they were before Jonathan started feeling bad.
When I pulled into the driveway, fear took over and I rushed into the house yelling my husband’s name. I passed by Jonathan’s room and glanced in. There was our dear sweet boy who by all accounts was an exemplary teenager who gave us no trouble other than the occasional smartmouth. He was laying on his bed with his head of curly hair sticking out from one of his beloved camo caps and he was playing a game on his PSP. I rushed into our room where I had already scared the daylights out of my husband. “What is wrong? What is it? Calm down, ” he said. “The doctor called. He says Jonathan has Leukemia.” There it was. So much for trying to put it gently. I spit the words out like they were poison. My husband stayed calm, but I could tell I had just hit him in the gut and at some point it would all spill out. We went to Jonathan’s room and told him there was something wrong with his lab results and they wanted us to get another test. We held his hand and we prayed. After settling the other kids, we headed for the hospital for a follow up test which confirmed our worst nightmare. Our son had cancer.
Thus began our story that is still being written. I still get an incredibly sad feeling when I pass through that intersection or sit at that same red light. That was the day our lives changed forever. But it is also a day that I will never forget as one that began a journey of many lessons, heartbreak, triumphs, smiles, and deep faith tested but still standing and stronger than before. We still have a long road to go and I hope to one day put it all together in writing so that other families who have children with cancer may know that they are not alone. Hopefully, it will also help others who have perfectly healthy children have compassion towards these families or just teach them to simply be more thankful for what they have. Because it can all change in an instant with a simple phone call while sitting at a red light.
Hairless, pale, and skinny children laying on benches, chairs, or in strollers; heads hung over buckets throwing up for the third time in a row and no one has to ask why; six inch scars across skulls, legs or arms amputated, wheelchairs rolling by; thin, frail, bruised bodies… and no one here wonders why. They all know. Tubes down noses, IV bags hanging, swollen bodies, catheters with urine bags…. but no one stares or seems surprised. Hats and scarves adorn most children’s heads in the room. People are staring – but not at those children. They are staring at the children in the room who have long, shiny hair with ponytails hanging wondering… “New diagnosis?” …. “Survivor perhaps?” …… “Sibling?”…
Various languages spoken, the dress of different countries, heavy accents…. but yet all understand one word: CANCER. The look of exhaustion, the lines of worry, the stare that says “I’m overwhelmed” adorn the faces of the adults in the room.
Smiles, determination, playing show and tell with their scars, ports, and PICC lines; playing with toys, squealing with delight at the sound of a new toy, teens texting or playing music on their ipods… such a plethora of activity and emotion all found in one place: a Pediatric Cancer Clinic.
Welcome to our world…